Boarstall in 1695
(the original line engraving by Michael Berghers published in 1695)
(Rob Dixon Collection)
Boarstall House in 1695
(Detail from the 1695 plate)
(Copyright Rob Dixon)
On 12th September 1312, King Edward II granted John de Haudlo a license to fortify his mansion house at Boarstall with a wall of lime and stone. This resulted in the building of Boarstall Tower. There must, therefore, have been a house already existing at Boarstall at that time. We do not know whether de Haudlo's parents-in-law, the Fitz-Nigel's, built this original house or de Haudlo built it himself, but the Fitz-Nigel's had lived at Boarstall for some time. Thus we cannot be sure how old was the existing house in 1312 nor what it looked like.
There is circumstantial evidence that suggests that there was a house here in the early 12th Century. There was a church in Boarstall before 1142. There surely would have been a congregation for this church and, almost certainly, a large house. It does not follow that this was Boarstall House but no evidence has been found for the existence of any other large house in Boarstall. As Boarstall is not mentioned in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book of 1086, any church or house presumably postdated Domesday. In about 1270, Henry III gave 20,000 stone roofing slates for the repair of Boarstall. This implies that the building was already fairly old by this time if its existing slates were not fit for re-use.
The only surviving image of Boarstall is by Michael Burghers which was published in 1695 as a plate in "Parochial Antiquities Attempted in the History of Ambrosden, Burcester [sic], ..." by White Kennett, vicar of Ambrosden. This shows Boarstall Tower in the foreground, and the manor house, Boarstall House, demolished in 1778, in the background.
Burghers was engraver to the University of Oxford for over 30 years. Since he could not fly, this may be an imaginary aerial view. Perhaps he sat on Muswell Hill with a telescope, but surely he would not have been high enough to get the view in the print. Either way it is a very accurate piece of topographical engraving, since many of the features of the gardens can still be traced and a geophysical survey by the National Trust showed that the foundations of the demolished manor house map exactly to the print. Burghers shows, amongst other things, a great variety of chimney styles, suggesting that the house had been altered on many occasions.
The part of the house that is most likely to have medieval origins is that immediately behind the tower. This detail trimmed from the 1695 view shows the part of the original house that might have already existed when the tower was built in 1312, even if it had been altered. It is possible that the area to the left was the medieval great hall, with the screens passage to the left of the porch. What is certain is that the tower is out of all proportion to the size of both what may have been the house as it was in 1312 and even to the larger 1695 house. It is not possible to say whether any part of the house shown in this detail has origins in the 12th century.
The Little Green Room
Rooms in House - taken from Boarstall House contents sale 1769 auction catalogue
At the Stair Head
Stair Head Chamber
Stair Head Closet
The Tapestry Room
The "next" Room
The "next" room
The Little Green Room
Copyright Rob Dixon, 2003